As a young girl, I can safely say that I never dreamt of becoming an economist analysing supply and demand graphs nor did I have a burning passion to understand why firms make the decisions they do. Most of my interests stem from a desire to learn more about people. While Economics is typically seen as the ‘dismal science', the most topical and important issues that affect all of us are undeniably based on Economics. These range from understanding how some people live in dire poverty while others live like kings to realising how Nick Clegg or Gordon Brown's change in policy is really going to affect the average Joe. An understanding of Economics has effectively enhanced my understanding of life.
It can sometimes seem completely absurd that the scary looking equations your teacher writes on the board in your Econometrics class are not incomprehensible squiggles but, lo and behold, actually applicable to this world. Or that the slightly overweight lecturer babbling on about the different types of demand is worth anything in real life. What are a bunch of textbooks filled with graphs and text really going to tell us?
The answer is that they can tell us an awful lot.
By learning the concepts, we can then apply these to everyday situations (like the best car to buy given your budget) as well as huge global crises, like the length of time it will take for businesses to recover from the recession. Learning that the typical firm's objective is to maximise profit and that the average consumer wants to maximise his or her utility allows us to understand how we can move on and develop further - through incentives and compromise. This idea has become especially relevant with the recent party election campaigns. I, for one, will admit regrettably that I was previously of the view that public policy would not really make a difference to the population but I now find myself scrutinising Labour and Tory policy claims. For instance, I now understand the implications of Labour's plans to increase tax for everyone earning over £20,000 by 1% if they still remain in power. Understanding Economics also makes me pretty cynical that the Conservative Party's claim that ‘nobody will be worse off as a result of [Conservative policy] changes' is plausible, or even possible. Either way, I have transformed into an informed voter, more active and aware of changes that are happening in the country in which I live.
In an odd way, I was fortunate to begin studying Economics at a time of global recession. Whilst most people were worrying about their waning job prospects, I found it absolutely fascinating to be a student at such a critical time and learn about how we got where we are today. The recession was big news everywhere and only emphasised the importance of Economics; it affects everyone from the banker in the City to your local shopkeeper who had to close their business down as a result and is now unemployed. Studying Economics at university has helped me to realise that with the right knowledge, we can prevent a huge economic downturn from occurring in the future.
It can sometimes seem disheartening when you're sitting in the library, up to your eyes in lecture notes and things just don't seem to be sinking in. Studying for a degree in Economics is by no means an easy option - but then again, we all know that real life is definitely not black and white. This is why I think there needs to be a more active approach taken when teaching and learning Economics. I've been lucky in that I've found the enthusiasm and encouragement to become truly passionate about Economics at my university a greatly infectious experience. With heavily subsidised subscriptions to The Economist and numerous talks with key speakers from all over the world, there are plenty of opportunities to become engaged with Economics outside of the classroom. This buzzing environment has inspired me to pursue many of my current interests, from working in an NGO with the objective to achieve greater income equality in Cambodia last summer to interning at Cancer Research UK and analysing the different budgets of the political parties for health and social policy and what benefits each party can bring.
Although I still do not know what I want to do after university, please do not think that a degree in Economics basically equates to a career as an investment banker. My studies have provided me with so many transferable skills and honed both my qualitative and quantitative abilities. I am actually excited to see where I end up in the future as I have no doubt it will be doing something inspiring with the numerous skills that I've acquired. Even after my degree, though, I will probably still feel uncomfortable to label myself an ‘economist' because there is such a wealth of economic theory out there and the world is constantly changing, I would never be qualified enough at all to do so. However, this is precisely why I love it; I'm constantly learning, developing and understanding and that is why I find Economics such an exciting and important subject.